Take A Hike At Spencer Butte – The Butte That Almost Wasn’t

Spencer Butte Eugene, Oregon c 1910 | Photo Lane County Historical Society
Spencer Butte Eugene, Oregon c 1910 | Photo Lane County Historical Society

Eugene is full of landmarks but nothing compares to the domineering Spencer Butte.  The Butte that almost wasn’t.  You can see it for many miles and once you have made the hike to the top, the view is amazing.  Standing at the summit is like standing in the center of a bundt cake! (well the shape anyhow) Really.  It’s elevation is approximately 2058 feet.  Once you reach the top it can take your breathe away (if it hasn’t already during the climb up that is).

Summit of Spencer Butte
Summit of Spencer Butte

Standing at the summit you can see out over the entire Eugene area and the mountains that surround it. You can literally turn 160 degrees and look at Lane County, it really is quite amazing.  There are 4 separate trails leading up to the summit of the butte.  I have only been up the main trail but have plans to hike the other trails.  It consists of switchbacks and amazing scenery.  There is also Poison Ivy and Oak so be careful on your hike.

The Calapooia Indians called the Butte Champ-a-te meaning Rattlesnake Mountain.

In the mid 70’s over 10,000 man hours were logged by volunteers improving the trails and walking in tons of rock, no machinery could be used to haul it in.

There are a few conflicting theories on who it was named for, but it is known how it came about.

F.M. Wilkins Mayor Eugene, Oregon  April 1905 - April 1907
F.M. Wilkins Mayor Eugene, Oregon April 1905 – April 1907

In January 1937 the Eugene Parks Commission began talks to purchase Spencer Butte, which was owned by two different person’s.  240 Acres of the Butte was owned by the daughter of Dr. Charles Church, a prominent businessman in the steamboat industry.  When his daughter Lizzie married Ida Giese, she and her husband inherited the property from Mr. Church.  The 40 Acres remaining on the West side was owned by Alice M. Morse.  F.M. Wilkins, a former mayor of Eugene was acting president of the Eugene Parks Commission.  Talks with Mr. Giese narrowed down a selling price of $30 an acre.

“Remember, Eugene boys and girls will be climbing Spencer Butte fifty and one hundred years from today, to be inspired by looking over a city built out of the very foot of the butte.  F.M. Wilkins

Negotiations ensued about the down payment of $1,100 and repayment of the note in full over time, the question was how to raise the money for the agreed upon down payment.  Geise was requiring the payment to be made within 30 days as there was now a second offer on the land.  The private party that was trying to purchase the land from Geise had his eye on the property with plans to clear the trees and use it as a goat pasture.

The City of Eugene failed to acquire a loan from the bank to secure the transaction, time was running against them.  Left to their own efforts and want of that Butte, they devised a plan.  During a meeting the Register Guard and the Eugene Daily News offered their support and ran a publicity campaign, informing the residents of the need for donations.

The fund raising campaign began on January 13th, 1937.  It seemed as if the entire community was involved, the newspapers reporting the daily tally as it inched closer to it’s mark.  The deadline was drawing near and it looked impossible to reach their goal of $1,100. By the deadline of January 30th, the funds were short; coming up with only $687.00.  Adding insult to injury, Mr. Geise lowered his offer to $6,000. The $200 was his contribution to the parks fund.  At the last moment, an elderly man posted $1,000 government bond to guarantee the funds and the rest is history.

Photographic reproduction of a lithograph of Eugene, looking south toward Spencer Butte. Copied from Walling's History of Lane County (1884).
Photographic reproduction of a lithograph of Eugene, looking south toward Spencer Butte. Copied from Walling’s History of Lane County (1884).

More than a thousand people contributed to the fund, ranging from 1 cent to five dollars during the campaign.  The remaining balance due was put to the people and onto the ballot to cover the costs.  The ballot measure passed in may of 1940.

A celebration dinner was held to thank the people of Eugene and the newspapers for the support and generosity in helping to raise the funds necessary.  

There are always things happening at Spencer Butte, and a never ending need for volunteers to keep it cleaned up.  Won’t you be a part of it’s history?

For further information about volunteering at the Butte, please visit the City of Eugene.

Take a hike!  You won’t be sorry that you did.  I would recommend comfortable shoes, water and a camera!

See you at the top!



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